Spa suite at Chi Shangri-La Mactan, Philippines. Image courtesy of Charlotte Anne de Peralta, used with permission.
There's a spa experience in Southeast Asia for every interest. Almost every five-star hotel or resort offers a wellness package (adapting many traditional local wellness practices), but it pays to dig a little deeper and explore more specialized experiences elsewhere.
We asked a few of our blogger friends to tell us about their favorite spa experiences, and they ran the gamut from luxury Filipino hilot massages to vegan detox treatments in Thailand.
A Five-Star Pampering Experience in the Philippines
Let's start with Charlotte Anne of charlotteanne.net, who found that the beachside activities available during a stay at the Shangri-La Mactan in Cebu, the Philippines paled next to the resort's luxury spa.
“Shangri-la’s Chi Spa didn’t disappoint,” Charlotte tells us. “From the reception hut to my very own cabana, everything felt surreal as the whole area was landscaped to perfection, like it was the garden of Eden.
“When I entered the gates of my cabana, it was one of those 'pinch-me-moments'. I have to walk through a path of flowing water [over stone steps] to the inside of the cabana. Inside, it was so huge that it looks more like a hotel room than a spa unit.
“I was given their most popular treatment called 'Signature Philippine Hilot Massage'. It was the traditional Hilot massage that is passed down through generations and generations of the Philippine culture. As [my therapist] massages my body with the soothing aroma of virgin coconut oil and as the warmed banana leaves are placed over my body, I found myself drifting off into a hypnotic state.”
A Low-Cost Massage by the Blind in Vietnam
“I read about the O Spa in the Lonely Planet, and I was fascinated that all the masseuse have sight impairments and this is a way of giving them employment,” Jenni explains.
“The Spa is quite an experience in itself, consisting of a waiting area and a therapy room where there are four beds separated only by a curtain. I didn’t think I was going to like having a massage with three people lying in close proximately but it turned out to be the best massage I have ever had.
“My therapist was completely blind - there was no communication, she just got on with the foot and leg massage. When she was finished, she left and the hostess came and took me to the changing room. It was such a strange but wonderful experience and I would be there in a heartbeat if I was ever in Hanoi again.”
Yoga classes overlooking rice terraces in Thailand. Image courtesy of Sarah Hughes, used with permission.
A Vegan Wellness Retreat in Thailand
“Chivasuka is 45 minutes from Chiang Mai in the Lanna hill tribe village of Bann Sam Sop; the property itself lies on a hillside of tea and fruit plantations,” Sarah tells us. “The main house, where meals are eaten, socializing happens and private consultations occur, is warm and welcoming, with floor to ceiling windows offering a view of the vegetable gardens and surrounding hills.
“A retreat at Chivasuka includes detoxification and body re-set through a customized raw vegan diet presented with the style of a 5 star restaurant. The food is as beautiful as it is delicious and healthy. To aid in the mind and body relaxation and rejuvenation is daily yoga, meditation, massage and hiking.
“Packages and customized stays can range from a weekend to a week or longer but trust us when we say you will not want to leave this peaceful and heavenly place.”
A Women-Only Retreat in Cambodia
Finally, over in Kampot, Two Can Travel's Jen Joslin tells us about her “absolute favorite” spa in Cambodia, the Banteay Srey Women's Spa. “It is a beautiful haven, located in a lush environment along the river,” Jen tells us, and that's just the location!
“[Banteay Srey offers] a wide range of spa treatments using local ingredients such as kaffir lime, coffee, coconut oil and even Kampot pepper, a specialty of the region,” Jen tells us, explaining that attendants put those ingredients to good use in their activities. “The full body aromatherapy massage and facial are two of my favorite treatments,” she says.
The spa's facilities put its bucolic location to good use. “There is a yoga space on site, and classes are offered in the morning and evening,” Jen tells us. “The covered wooden deck along the river is a great place to relax, and sarongs and inner tubes are provided for swimming. The on-site restaurant, Deva Cafe, serves healthy, delicious vegetarian food and fresh smoothies.”
Finally, the spa gives back to the community in a number of meaningful ways. “Banteay Srey is also a training facility giving Cambodian women the opportunity to develop a wide range of marketable skills in Cambodia’s growing hospitality and wellness industries,” Jen explains. “The Banteay Srey project provides a residence where women can develop their independence in a comfortable, safe environment.
“Upon graduating, trainees are given support to find excellent job placements in spas, resorts, or restaurants. English, Khmer, and basic mathematics studies are offered. The women can also take yoga and meditation classes to support their personal growth and healing.”